Little known secret: I’ve never been in Atlanta before. The airport, yes, but never inside the city limits. Hopefully, Mariah the Scientist—this week’s co-curator—can change my luck and I’ll one day be able to get my roll on at Cascade, eat at Dulce’s in Kirkwood, and hang out with Egypt Sherrod. The 22-year-old rising multi-hyphenate is blessed with effortless cool and an attention to detail that makes tracks like “Beetlejuice” a song to keep on repeat more than three times.

Mariah’s uniquely compelling brand of music is woven into her DNA, a solid theme for the latest edition of ESSENCE’s The Playlist. The former biology major from Saint John’s University and yours truly will pick five entries apiece that connect our musical sensibilities like a double helix. Spoiler alert: Gaidaa is my B-DNA (major and minor groove). “There are no four bases of my artistry,” Mariah shares via email about her melodious style. “My music is more like diaries of a little monster, that monster being Cupid.”

Mariah The Scientist Goes Into the Lab For This Week’s Music Vibes
Image Courtesy of Mariah The Scientist

Her voice is tinted with rich hues and an interesting, honied sweetness, which makes songs like “RIP” and her latest, “Always n Forever,” perfect compliments to her growing discography. “He was just too cool,” Mariah says when asked about first impressions of the song’s featured guest Lil Baby. “He was pretty funny, too, and his diamonds just might have been dancing harder than mine. Now I got beef with the jeweler because I know we shop with the same guy [laughs].”

You know what else you should know? The RCA recording artist doesn’t have any cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste chromosomes in her DNA. Her as-yet-to-be-announced next project promises to continue her fearless and unapologetic femininity over dope production. “I’m on some other shit, a whole new vibe,” Mariah confidently professes to ESSENCE. “Oddly enough, I mostly recognize my evolution as I make new music and move forward. The most important aspect of the new project will be the corresponding short film. I want this project to be seen, as well as heard.”

So, if you don’t have any kool-aid in your DNA, allow us to share these sonic wave-inducing joints by Snoh Aalegra, Skip Marley, Phil Augusta Jackson, and more below.

1. Mariah the Scientist – “Always n’ Forever” (ft. Lil Baby)

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Kicking off The Playlist is Mariah’s follow-up to “RIP” called “Always n Forever,” a love song about loyalty and commitment. Featuring Lil Baby, currently one of the hottest rappers out right now, the Kid Studio and Mariah The Scientist co-directed video is a wild ride full of pre-game snacks, parking lot pimpin’ outside of Magic City, and a reminder that the heart wants what the heart wants. “All I’m saying is, if you’re in the club,” Mariah offers, “and your ex is in the club, and this song is playing, and you [both] make eye contact—did y’all ever really break up?” A good question that can only be answered by playing this one out loud amongst friends (and that summer bae).

2. Skip Marley — “Make Me Feel” (ft. Ari Lennox & Rick Ross)

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Skip Marley, whose history-making global hit “Slow Down” will be forever etched in everyone’s party rotation, returns with another heat rock called “Make Me Feel.” With Ari Lennox and Rick Ross as perfect guest stars, this track is a real-feel-good record that ramps up anticipation for Skip’s long-awaited debut EP. The grooves emitted from this Rykeyz production is soulful and funky, and the song’s mantra—”let’s make this a good life even through the bad times”—is a message that we agree is needed now more than ever.

3. Pop Smoke — “Something Special”

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Pop Smoke‘s legacy and impact continues even after his untimely passing, and “Something Special” is a perfect encapsulation of just how big and bright his star was to become. Sampling the forever iconic remix “So Into You” by Fabolous and Tamia, Pop’s powerful and infectious confidence exudes over the course of the song that not only shows Pop was a visionary, but he had an aptitude for how great his magic could be on the airwaves. “[I] love this remake,” Mariah confesses with her second Playlist choice. “Good vibes. [Pop was] gone too soon, for sure.”

4. Phil Augusta Jackson — “Alone”

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A hero in my mind, Phil Augusta Jackson is a writer, actor, and musician whose work you’re familiar with if you’ve watched a certain (Emmy-nominated) HBO series called Insecure. “Alone,” which to me resonates because COVID-19 is a mutha, is a mid-tempo trap-R&B effort that tackles the topics of love lost and memories of a relationship that once was. If you’re equally feeling aloof, this song is a great one to play to clear your head.

5. Snoh Aalegra — “DYING 4 YOUR LOVE”

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Mariah and I do have something in common as Snoh Aalegra’s “smooth and flex-worthy” cut continues to impress music lovers everywhere. The P2J-produced single from Ugh, those feels again is an experimental romp set to a storyline that showcases the Iranian-Swedish artist’s blend of pop, R&B, and hip-hop sensibilities. While the song puts a gentle sway in your hips, Mariah links herself to the song in another way, saying, “Dying for his love, huh, Snoh? Relatable, unfortunately. [I] love the video too!”

6. Gaidaa — “Stranger” (ft. Saba & Jarreau Vandal)

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Gaidaa is a personal favorite of mine and the Dutch-Sudanese singer-songwriter continues her ascent with this dynamic single called “Stranger”. The low-key track, which appears on her new EP Overture, is an introspective and soulful listen that I encourage everyone to keep on repeat. Add in verses from Chicago’s Saba and Maastrict’s Jarreau Vandal and this one is just right as we wind down to the final weeks of summer.

7. Baby Rose — “Mortal”

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Baby Rose‘s Daniel Caesar-esque sounding song, “Mortal,” is Mariah the Scientist’s pick for all the right reasons. “This girl’s voice is so rich. It’s like Amy Winehouse had a baby with Nina Simone,” she shares. On “Mortal,” which compares her ex-lover’s magnetism to a strong undertone, the Atlanta-bred Baby Rose throws her hat into the ring, presenting us with fresh R&B and Soul vibes the way only she can. “This is my favorite song from her new EP,” Mariah adds. 

8. Queen Naija — “Pack Lite”

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I need everyone to stop sleeping on Queen Naija. The Detroit dynamo delivers her new single, “Pack Lite,” which increases excitement for her forthcoming debut album. Interpolating Erykah Badu‘s “Bag Lady,” the formerly unsigned musician has a sharp ultimatum to a lover that resonates with anyone whose ever felt the same way. As another original voice in today’s R&B landscape, Queen Naija’s latest is a gorgeous addition to your playlist for this weekend.

9. Headie One & Drake — “Only You Freestyle”

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Part of the reason why Drake‘s success has been teflon is because even his throwaways demand everyone’s attention. Mariah The Scientist isn’t worried about these loosies as “Only You Freestyle” with UK’s Headie One is her choice meant to bring the world to a screeching halt. Crafted from Aubrey’s OVO laboratory, the drill-inspired, Arabic-infused song is the rare time where he isn’t trying to make a song meant for everyone. “Big Drake,” Mariah opines, “I don’t know what you’re talking about [laughs]. But you still never miss.”

10. Ambré — “Slip” (ft. BEAM)

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To close out The Playlist, Ambré‘s “Slip” is a song choice I made because of its description of the inner fight of self-sabotage when it comes to love. Everyone wants to control the role they play in someone else’s life, but for Ambré, her being works best in a state all her own. Featuring BEAM, this song may sound seemingly too perfect, but trust me—Ambré is a talented musician whose pen game and performance style will be talked about for years to come.

Catch new bi-weekly editions of ESSENCE’s The Playlist on Fridays and follow @KevitoClark on Instagram and Twitter.